Any society that fails to harness the energy and creativity of its women is at a huge disadvantage in the modern world. – Tian Wei
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if women were granted at least half the opportunities as men of the 21st century have?
One wouldn’t take too long to admit that women, despite being deprived of basic opportunities, time and again, have broken barriers to prove themselves in the society.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: STILL A SOCIAL MALAISE
In a deeply-rooted misogynistic society, where patriarchal traditions take the lead, women have always been stripped of their elementary rights. Talking about gender discrimination, prejudice against women has always been at the forefront due to archaic societal notions. Having unequal access to education, work and health facilities is still an understatement to make. Discrimination starts from even before the girl child is born; most times she is also killed as a foetus, and if at all, she manages to see the light of day, she is killed as an infant, which makes up the highly skewed child sex ratio where for every 1000 boys in India, there are only 908 girls. With very little to your dismay, this is one of the prime reasons, many girls across the country are forced to drop out of school. While most men may come to defend themselves quoting, “It happens with men too.”, statistics prove otherwise.
- Women earn only 10% of the world’s income.
- Women own less than 1% of the world’s property.
- 60% of the world’s chronically hungry are women and girls.
- Two-thirds of all children denied school is girls, and 75 percent of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women.
- Women hold only 21% of the world’s parliamentary seats, and only 8% of the world’s cabinet ministers are women.
- Only 46 countries have met the UN target of 30 percent female decision-makers.
- One in three women around the world are likely to be victims of gender-based violence in their lifetime. 
- Women are 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries in car crashes because safety features are designed for men.
- Women in rural parts of Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water.
- In India, for every 100 men in the country, there are only 93 women, which is below the global norm of 106 women for every 100 men.
- Girls born in India are 8-10 percent more likely to die before their 5th birthday than boys.
- The Government of India’s 2009 MDG (Millennium Development Goal) report with all the nine states covered in the survey, reported that women were less than half as likely to hold jobs as men.
- While the work participation rate among males ranges from 67 to 77 percent across different states, among females, it is just 7 to 39 percent. 
- 42% of married women in India were married as children (District Information System for Education (DISE).
- 1 in every 3 child brides in the world is a girl in India (UNICEF). India has more than 45 lakh girls under 15 years of age who are married with children. Out of these, 70% of the girls have 2 children (Census 2011).
- Talking about the recent ‘Hathras’ case in Uttar Pradesh, India, it is now a proven fact that Dalit women languish at the bottom of India’s unbending and harsh caste system.
Inequality towards the female gender, in every aspect, has been in-grained since times immemorial. It is in fact, so customary and ordinary, that women wouldn’t know what it is like to live in a world without any inequality. In recent times, Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as a competent candidate to run for the post of Vice-Presidency in America. While this a major progressive move, not only for women of color but for the gender as a whole, the same received major backlash from people all around the globe. Among these was the President of the United States, Donald Trump himself.
THE CONVENTION ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN (CEDAW) – A PRELUDE
It was in the year 1979, that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was taken on by the United Nations General Assembly. By 1989, almost one hundred nations voluntarily signed the treaty and agreed to be bound by its provisions.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A CONVENTION?
A convention is nothing but an agreement between countries to behave a certain way. It sets a particular standard or parameter within which signatories of the treaty or participants of the convention are required to adhere to. It relates to rights and duties on the part of the government authorities. It also puts a legal obligation on the authorities concerned to do all they can, in order to protect the interests of those concerned.
ABOUT THE CONVENTION ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN (CEDAW)
It is basically an international bill of rights for women, which is constituted of a preamble and about 30 articles. From defining discrimination to listing down ways to combat the discrimination being faced by women worldwide, CEDAW covers it all or at least seems to. By adopting CEDAW, countries undersign and pledge themselves to end all acts of discrimination against women in all forms. This includes redesigning their domestic laws in ways that would make the legal system devoid of any sorts of discrimination. It also aims at the establishment of entities, institutions, and bodies to look after the safety and protection of women against discrimination, to ensure the elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations, or enterprises.
A convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) is made on similar lines.
DO YOU KNOW CRC (CONVENTION ON RIGHTS OF CHILD) AND CEDAW ARE INTERCONNECTED?
Children’s rights and women’s rights are fairly interrelated. Women who have an established career along-with a thorough educational background are much stable, independent, and likely to support their families in a comparatively efficient way. Protecting the rights of girls when they are a child only ensures their rights being protected even later on. Both CEDAW and CRC help in ensuring women’s rights through different stages of their lives.
WHY SHOULD BOYS AND MEN CARE ABOUT CEDAW?
If girls and women exercise their rights, it benefits society as a whole. When educated, strongly-opinionated, resilient, fierce women come together along with men, they build communities with a vision. The fabric of society is enhanced and nations are rebuilt. If boys and men are brought to awareness about women’s rights, they can help break the stereotypical mindset being followed through ages. Men can help in this reformation if they are aware of CEDAW.
HOW HAS CEDAW HELPED?
In countries that have ratified the treaty, CEDAW has proven to be invaluable in opposing the effects of discrimination, which include violence, poverty, and lack of legal protections, along with the denial of inheritance, property rights, and access to credit.
SHORTCOMINGS OF CEDAW
Despite its exhaustive nature and potentiality, the CEDAW has some serious drawbacks. CEDAW, as a legal instrument, is tainted with rather vague provisions, and by its failure to address crucial violations of women’s rights in various parts of the world, it ends up providing a mechanism with loopholes to ensure the implementation of the convention. One of the reasons for calling out on the convention would be that despite violence against women and girls is one of the most heinous of human rights violations, it is not explicitly identified as a human rights violation in the CEDAW Convention.
A PARADOX TO THE “WOMEN ARE OPPRESSED AND WEAK” NARRATIVE
As surprising as it may sound, the world has been revolutionized by exceptional women leaders in fields that were until recently completely dominated by men, right from wrestling to business. Women are changing the face of the world bringing about emphatic changes in different walks of life. From Jane Austen who started penning her thoughts when she was only 17, she never got the recognition she deserved while she was alive. But today even after a good 200 years people all around the globe are well versed with Jane publications. Moving onto reformists, writers, and influential personalities like Maya Angelo, Oprah Winfrey, Mother Teresa to Malala, who won the Nobel laureate at the age of 14. Why are women still put in the backseat? Just for the record, countries like New Zealand, governed by female leaders like Jacinda Arden, have dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic far better than the others. As Michelle Obama puts it “There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”
Where women rights have been a more recent advancement in international human rights law, CEDAW was the first international agreement to declare women rights as human rights. In drawing things to a close, it can be stated that CEDAW sets up an agenda, a starting point, to strengthen the rights of women. It promotes basic human rights and achieves progress in establishing the start of a long journey to end all discrimination against women. However, it hasn’t been able to overcome barriers of all sorts to address these problems worldwide. There are many countries that sign the convention for fame but very few actions are actually taken on site. Having said that, CEDAW initiated their optional protocol where women and girls can directly address their stories to CEDAW without the involvement of the government. The Committee undoubtedly endeavors to contribute to their goal of equal rights for women.
 You’re more likely to be poor if you are a woman. That’s a fact, New Zealand, available at: https://www.oxfam.org.nz/what-we-do/ending-poverty-inequality/womens-rights/ (last visited on October 5, 2020).
 Seven Surprising and outrageous stats about gender inequality 2019, available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/surprising-stats-about-gender-inequality/ (last visited on October 5, 2020).
 Discrimination against women- still a social malaise 2014, India, available at: https://www.nielsen.com/in/en/insights/report/2014/discrimination-against-women/ (last visited on October 6, 2020).
BY NASHEET HAMDULAY | ILS LAW COLLEGE, PUNE